Metaphysical Poetry

Topics: T. S. Eliot, Metaphysical poets, John Donne Pages: 11 (3218 words) Published: April 7, 2013
The Dynamic Image in Metaphysical Poetry Author(s): Alice Stayert Brandenburg Reviewed work(s): Source: PMLA, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Dec., 1942), pp. 1039-1045 Published by: Modern Language Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 05/03/2013 12:52 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

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many brilliant critics and scholars have interpreted the metaphysical image that one hesitates to push the analysis farther, but analysis and theory are justified if they throw new light on a subject or show a possible relationship between things that had previously seemed independent. The question is not whether metaphysical poetry can be analyzed more fully, but whether one simple, underlying peculiarity can be found to explain some of the characteristics of this type of verse and to show that these disiecta membraare of a piece. The underlying quality that appears to connect many of the seemingly unrelated features of metaphysical poetry might be called the dynamic image. All imagery may be divided into two chief types, the static and the dynamic. The static image describes the appearance, taste, smell, feel, or sound of an object-the qualities, in short, which mediaeval philosophers called accidents. The dynamic image describes the way in which objects act or interact. Static imagery is comparable to sculpture and painting; dynamic imagery is comparable to ballet, or, more accurately, to the modern dance, in which costumes and backgrounds are deliberately subordinated in order that attention may be focused on motion. Static imagery is the more common type of the two. Almost all the conventional Petrarchan comparisons of the Elizabethan sonneteers fall into this category; it has been the poetic legal tender in many periods of literature. Keats' "valley lillies whiter still Than Leda's love"' is an excellent illustration of this sort of image, as is Shakespeare's: Her beauty hangsupon the cheekof night Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear; Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! So showsa snowy dove troopingwith crows, As yonderlady o'er her fellowsshows.2 Even the metaphysical poets used static images, frequently to achieve comic or satiric effects. The exaggerated similes in Donne's eighth elegy, "The Comparison," are almost exclusively static and sensuous: And like a bunchof raggedcarretsstand The short swolnefingersof thy gouty hand.3 Dynamic imagery, too, is found in the poetry of all ages and all countries. The epic similes of classical poetry often describe motion rather than external appearance: Endymion, I, 157 f.


Romeo and Juliet, I. v. 47-51.

3 Lines 33 f.


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The Dynamic Image Uriturinfelix Dido, totaquevagatur urbe furens,qualisconiectacerva sagitta quamproculincautamnemorainter Cresiafixit pastor,agens telis, liquitquevolatile ferrum nescius;illa fuga silvas saltusqueperagrat Dictaeos:haeretlateri letalis harundo.4

Milton's extended similes often elaborate on motion, rather than on form or appearance.5 Shakespeare's plays are filled with the imagery of motion-the imagery best suited, surely, to dramatic poetry. Miss...
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